Updated on December 29, 2004
[An expurgated and somewhat bowdlerized version was published in National Review, April 22, 1996]
He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of an opponent. . . . It has never occurred to him . . . that when an objection is raised, it ought to be met with something more convincing than “scoundrel” or “blockhead.”
LORD MACAULAY, “Essay on Southey`s Colloquies”
Alien Nation (“one of the most widely discussed books of 1995″—Jerry Adler, Newsweek) was published in April and was immediately and almost universally reviewed, somewhat to my surprise although not, I must say in tribute to their professional judgment, to that of my hardcover publishers, Random House. I also found myself defending the book on a multitude of national and local television and radio shows, so that by the fall I was being recognized on the streets of New York. This was an unusual experience for a humble financial journalist. And, under the circumstances, rather alarming.
(Actually, everyone who approached me was very nice. I received only one death threat, on my voicemail at Forbes from an East European—accented woman. She was apparently incensed by my deriding, in a bitter exchange in The New York Times, both A. M. Rosenthal and American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Ira Glasser for their obsession with Alien Nation`s single reference to my son Alexander`s blue eyes and blond hair. This scandalous revelation—it`s on page 11—was probably the most cited passage in the book.
(And not once, as far as I can see, was it cited in its context: the paradoxical and destructive effect of the interaction between non-white immigration and affirmative-action quotas upon those native- born Americans who are not members of the so-called “protected classes,” as Alexander manifestly is not— I regard this hysterical reflex as further proof of my opening thesis in Alien Nation: current immigration policy is Adolf Hitler`s posthumous revenge on America.)
“We at AEI [ American Enterprise Institute],” Judge Robert Bork told me with mock ceremony during Norman Podhoretz`s retirement dinner in May, “are very grateful to you for drawing fire away from Charles Murray“.” Later in the summer I got a call from Murray himself, Bork`s colleague at AEI and co-author of The Bell Curve, professionally curious to see how I was holding up.
In fact, the first (and in the publishing business most important) reviews, in The New York Times—twice—The Washington Post and The Atlantic, were at least respectful, serious and sometimes, particularly the Times`s Richard Bernstein— strikingly generous. But after that, as Wellington said at Waterloo, it was hard pounding—the only question being who could pound hardest.
“Hateful, racist” “gentrified racism,“ “openly racialist.” (there was a lot more of this, exactly as predicted on p. 9). “narrow-minded,” “poppycock` “deliberately misleading,” “an ugly jeremiad,” “tirade,” “diatribe,” “a fervent and obsessive polemic,” “breathtaking disingenuousness,” “inflammatory?` “incendiary,” “conspicuous bad faith,” “utterly wrong,” “beyond the pale,” “bigoted,” “intellectualized white rage . . . in-your-face vileness.” Etc., etc., etc. I was blamed for the Oklahoma City bombing (by Ramon Mestre in the Miami Herald) and compared to Hitler and Germany`s neo-Nazi skinheads (by Jeff Turrentine in the Dallas Morning News.) My favorite hostile review: probably Lawrence Chua in the Village Voice—“His fear is justified. We will bury him.”
Then there were the attacks that might actually have concerned me: on my prose. Even some friends muttered about Alien Nation`s “sledgehammer style,” unfamiliar (lucky them) with the brutal techniques devised by American financial writers to explicate dismaying quantities of detailed information. The London Economist, familiar but superior, said I had “the quality of an embarrassing dinner-party guest—boorish, noisy and loquacious but also, maddeningly, often right.” My slogan: “Don`t be misled by this book`s simple style: it is interlaced with material that can challenge the acutest mind.”—Paul A. Samuelson, preface, Economics, seventh edition, 1967.
It is always fascinating for an author to see one reviewer complaining that a book is a “struggle to get through” (John J. Miller in Reason), while another, just as hostile, says the book is “witty and conversational, full of clever asides” (Philip Kasinitz, New York Newsday) and a third, still by no means uncritical, announces that “it is a pleasure to read Peter Brimelow at length. He writes straightforwardly, with wit, honesty and good humor” (Boston University`s Glenn C. Loury in National Review). When the latter views are the majority, as I can modestly report was the case with Alien Nation, it becomes hard to avoid the conclusion that the more infantile critics are just fumbling for any off-the-shelf insult. I`m surprised they didn`t claim my hair, in the hardcover jacket photo graph, was too long. My mother would have agreed.
“I expected Brimelow to smell of sulfur,” wrote Arizona Republic editorial writer Linda Valdez of her interview with me in September, after my diabolical status had been well established. (Her conclusion: I didn`t smell of sulfur. But I was still diabolical.)
Naturally, I found these reactions encouraging. After all, exactly the same incredulous rage has greeted the American conservative movement at each successive stage of its triumphant three-decade- long march through the institutions, beginning with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
I also had a simple test that I applied to every review: did it discuss the 1965 Immigration Act? Or did it instead just burble on about the glories of immigration in principle, missing Alien Nation`s key point—that the operations of 1965 Act in practice have resulted in an influx far larger, less skilled and far more dominated by a few Third World sources than anything envisaged at the time. In other words, even if you want a million immigrants a year—and the American people overwhelmingly do not—why this particular million?
I gave the shamefully large number of reviews that flunked this test a big fat “F” without any further ado. For the purposes of America`s current immigration debate, they were just not in the game. Unsurprisingly, Mestre, Turrentine and Chua were all “F” Others prominent examples: Christopher Hitchens, Los Angeles Times: Linda Chavez, USA Today: Clarence Wood, Chicago Tribune: Peter Skerry, Commentary.
Even more encouraging: throughout the print media barrage I was spending hours a day on television and, through the miracle of telephone hook-ups, on talk radio all round the country. And there it was not at all unusual to get 100 percent supportive calls—from real Americans. The only exception were the shows on National Public Radio, which, whatever else you can say about it, has clearly found an audience. But even there, the calls were usually 50-50.
Indeed, as a print journalist I am appalled to say that my experience with Alien Nation has left me gloomily convinced that electronic media, particularly talk radio, really does now carry the brunt of American public discourse. This is not just because a lot of talk show hosts—Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, David Brudnoy and many others, thanks to them all—were totally supportive in a way that no self-respecting print journalist seems ever able to be. Even my critics were generally at least polite and reasonable. When an angry caller complained to Larry Mantle, a liberal host on Los Angeles KPCC-FM, that I was being allowed to spread my noxious propaganda without anyone to oppose me, Mantle reprovingly said no one ever objected when he had liberals on alone. (I remember this particularly because I looked up to see through the soundproof glass my Random House escort, the beautiful Sheryl Benezra, locked in ferocious battle with the other young women in the studio on my behalf.)
Beyond personalities, however, the discipline of live electronic media makes it intrinsically more honest than print. When Linda Valdez suggested in the Arizona Republic (“F,” of course) that I had revealed my underlying racism by urging Eastern European immigration rather than Mexican, her readers could not know that in reality I was giving this as an example of the potential use of immigration s a foreign policy tool—and saying it has been precluded by statutory inflexibility and the immigrant binge of the last thirty years (pages 84-85) When Bryant Gumbel made the same suggestion on NBC`s Today show, I was able to whack him smartly on the snout.
On live radio and television, unlike print, I could compel questioners to address the central question on page 119: why do you want to transform America? Quite often they were honest or naive enough to answer—as did Larry Josephson on his “Bridges” NPR show—that America in 1965 was just too homogeneous (“white bread”) for their taste. Then I could move in for the kill: “That`s great! Now let`s ask the American people if they agree.”
In addition, of course, events continued to move Alien Nation`s way This undercut my critics logically, albeit not emotionally. House Speaker Newt Gingrich`s bipartisan task force on illegal immigration reported, recommending among other things reform of the Fourteenth Amendment interpretation whereby all children born in the United States, even of illegal immigrants, are American citizens. (I had been reproached in various debates by Peter Skerry for suggesting such an outlandish idea; reviewing my book for Commentary, Skerry was prudently silent on this point, while continuing to claim my other proposals were outlandish). And former Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Jordan`s Commission on Immigration Reform reported, recommending a one-third cut in the legal influx, in effect rolling back the 1990 Immigration Act and conceding that the system was broke and needs fixing. This was precisely my much-denounced point on page xx of Alien Nation.
President Clinton actually endorsed the Jordan Commission`s findings, to the utter shock and horror of the immigration enthusiast community in Washington. (“We know he`s seen your book,” the National Immigration Forum`s Frank Sharry, the nicest of my regular debate opponents, told me darkly, as we waited to go on CNN`s Crossfire together.)
I suspect that, as a Southerner, President Clinton may be plotting a daring Chancellorsville-style march around the Republicans` right flank on the immigration issue, perhaps during the 1996 election campaign. His administration and key liberal Democrats, like California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have al ready been significantly tougher on illegal immigration than Presidents Reagan and Bush.
By contrast, Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey reflexively denounced the Jordan Commission. “I`m hard-pressed,” he said later in the summer, “to think of a single problem that would be solved by shutting off the supply of willing and eager new Americans.”
This was an astonishing comment, and indicative of the fatal intellectual inertia still prevailing among many leading immigration enthusiasts. No doubt Armey was too busy to read the free copy of Alien Nation sent him by Random House. But even a nanosecond`s thought would have revealed to him that, if immigration drives the U.S. population up 50 percent by 2050—the Census Bureau`s cur rent estimate—it must inevitably cost the taxpayers massive additional monies far schools, prisons and other infrastructure, regardless of whether it also offers some particular benefit (which it does not).
Events, large and small, continue to move Alien Nations way. As I was preparing to write this at the end of 1995, I randomly picked these two stories out of the same newspaper (The New York Times. December 10):
MEXICO WOOS U.S. MEXICANS, PROPOSING DUAL NATIONALITY
Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo supports an amendment to the Mexican constitution allowing Mexicans to retain their nationality when they take out U.S. citizenship.”You`re Mexicans—Mexicans who live north of the border,” Mr. Zedillo told Mexican-American politicians in Dallas this year. He said he hoped the amendment would not only permit Mexican-Americans to better defend their rights at a time of rising anti-immigrant fervor, but also help create an ethnic lobby with political influence similar to that of American Jews.
See Alien Nation, pages 193-195. And —
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION BY IMMIGRANTS IS BECOMING CAUSE FOR CONCERN IN THE U.S.
“As you get more and more immigrants from countries where this is a practice, particularly from Somalia, there are pockets of it [clitoridectomy] popping up wherever you see concentrations of settlements,” Representative Pat Schroeder, the Colorado Democrat, said in an interview.
. . . Ms. Schroeder [has] proposed laws similar to ones in Britain and France making genital mutilation a crime.
Of course, this is completely hypocritical. Either values are relative or they are not. What it shows once again is that immigration enthusiasts` enthusiasm for “diversity” is highly selective. They fully intend to pick and choose among diversities. In effect, immigration just gives them an excuse to remake America. See Alien Nation. pages 105—6, 231—32.
Ironically, Pat Schroeder had been the 563rd critic to have the brilliant idea, when she got her free copy of Alien Nation from Random House chief Harry Evans, of pointing to our common British origins. “We welcome immigrants, even crabby ones,” she wrote back grandly. “Somehow they all find their niche.”
Hmm. Did the shock of finding out what some crabby immigrants are really like contribute to her subsequent decision to quit politics?
Nah, probably not. Immigration enthusiasts are a notably impervious lot.
It must be said, however, that America professional politicians are being relatively pervious about immigration. They know an electoral earthquake—Proposition 187—when they see one. In both parties, they are prepared at least to contemplate immigration reform. Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has privately made it clear he does not want to see the legal immigration issue raised at all, probably because he fears accusations of racism, now says flatly in To Renew America that illegal immigration should and can be stopped. (He is silent, of course, about deporting illegals already here.)
By contrast, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has never formally rescinded its annual July Fourth call for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing “open borders,” probably the high water-mark of loony libertarianism. (Still, this instant tradition did cease in 1995, abruptly and without explanation, after the publication of Alien Nation)
My conclusion: it is not so much elected officials who are the barrier to rational immigration reform in America: it is the “permanent government” of bureaucrats, mediacrats, educrats, assorted policy wonks and intellectuals—in alliance with ethnic and economic special interest groups.
And these, as it happens, are also the people who review books. Reading through the notices of Alien Nation, the sensation I get is exactly that of putting a recalcitrant three-year old to bed crying, screaming, struggling, kicking, proclamations of hatred.
Then—and this is significant—sudden, serene sleep. And you go off for a quiet scotch and a heart attack. Or in my case to finish some mundane article on the stock market, further building the Forbes family fortune and thus financing, indirectly, Steve Forbes`s race for President.
(He`s no good on immigration, alas. By contrast, Pat Buchanan bless his heart, was photographed holding up my book when he announced his support for an immigration moratorium. I think I might tug my forelock and respectfully hold out for whichever presidential candidate does the most to promote my Alien Nation. Of course, it could be Bill Clinton).
There are basically two views about how you can influence public debate. The Thin End of the Wedge Theory, favored by gentle souls like James W. Michaels and John O`Sullivan—respectively my editors at Forbes and National Review magazines—is that while emphasizing how much agreement there is between you and everyone else, you politely but firmly insinuate modifications into the discussion, all of such an eminently sensible character that no-one can possibly (or. at least, reasonably) object. Over time, you turn people around.
In contrast, there`s the Thick End Theory. You pick up the wedge by` its thin end and pound the opposition with the thick end, as hard as possible. Then you stand back and see what happens.
I have to admit that I lean toward the second approach. This is probably a fault of personality. I lack the patience to maneuver opponents in detail, especially since it means I may never get to state my own very important opinion directly. Indeed, I think that re pressing an opinion in this way can be harmful to everyone`s health. Such tactfulness in the face of the hyperemotional minority is why most Americans now lack the language to express their common private conviction that, since America has been historically a white nation, it might very well matter that public policy is at present so rapidly shifting the country`s racial balance. (Of course, it might not. But if not, why not discuss it? See page 107.)
Anyway, as Alan Abelson, the great editor of Barrons, used to reassure me when I worked for him, sadism is a professional requirement for a journalist. So in Alien Nation I hit the immigration enthusiasts head on.
Some reviewers appreciated this. Jack Miles, in his very thoughtful essay in The Atlantic Monthly, said I was “an inspired controversialist, determined to storm the enemy`s redoubt where it is strongest, not where it is weakest.”
But other reviewers simply could not stomach the resulting bloodshed. For example, Jacquie Miller in the Ottawa Citizen worried—all too presciently, for what it is worth—that “phrases can be plucked out of Brimelow`s book that, shoved only slightly out of context, provide ammunition[for the inevitable charge of racism] She instanced my references to high black crime and Laotian welfare rates. Miller also felt that the “credibility” of my account of Robert Kennedy`s ludicrous underestimate of Asian immigration resulting from the l965 Act (p. 78) somehow suffered from what she described as “a typical slur”: my adding that “tragically, Robert Kennedy himself was to be assassinated by an immigrant counted by the INS as Asian.”
My first reaction to this sort of thing, of course, is incredulity. I believe truth should be an absolute defense, as it is in libel law. Laotians do have disproportionately high welfare rates etc. And I said “tragically.” didn`t I?
Still, I recognize a problem. There is no point in repelling readers, at least those who show Ms. Miller`s symptoms of open-minded ness.
The problem, however, is not easily resolved. The truth, we are told after all, shall set us free. And it is precisely because of the media`s flinching from facts that many Americans are unaware of the immigration dimensions of major contemporary public policy dilemmas (see p. 7). It is because Americans are never reminded of the Jordanian origins of Kennedy`s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, that they don`t think to put him at the head of a list of infamous immigrants to counter the immigration enthusiasts` silly ploy of reeling off, in place of argument, the names of distinguished immigrants. In fact, many Americans can`t think of a list of infamous immigrants at all—another example of the one-way nature of the immigration debate.
Former New York mayor Ed Koch pulled this trick on me in the course of a surprisingly disappointing and weak review in the New York Post; “Albert Einstein, Arturo Toscanini, Madeleine Albright, I. M. Pei, Patrick Ewing, John Shalikashvilli, Henry Kissinger, [etc., etc.] . . . Brimelow should squirm at their very mention.”
My unsquirming answer, in part:
Sirhan; Giuseppe Esposito (founder of the Italian Mafia in the U.S.);. Meyer Lansky, “Lucky” Luciano, Al Capone (all organized crime); V. K. Ivankov (of the emerging “Russian Mafia”); Bruno Richard Hauptmann (Lindbergh kidnapper); Rosario Ames (wife and co-conspirator of traitor Aldrich Ames); Civil War Colonels John B. Turchin, USA, and Henry Wirz, CSA (respectively dismissed from U.S. Army for atrocities against Southern civilians and hung for atrocities against Union prisoners of war as camp commandant at Andersonville) . . .
And Charles Ponzi (inventor of the type of financial fraud named after him, whereby early investors are paid off with later investors` monies, luring more in—just like the immigration enthusiasts` fantasy of how immigrants will bail out the Social Security system. Ben Wattenberg was still repeating this in his syndicated column in late 1995, despite Alien Nation`, conclusive refutation, p. 153-4).
Still. I have hope for Koch. who is sensible about illegal immigration and other things. It seems he was simply unable to focus on my book`s content, a common failing, because of the memory of his own immigrant parents. One of my happiest moments in taping the three-part immigration debate television special for William F. Buckley`s Firing Line is establishing through cross-examination that Koch did not realize his parents could not immigrate under current law anyway (because they came from European countries that have been shouldered aside by the family-reunification inflow triggered by the 1965 Act—see p. 18.) 1 expect that we can resolve our differences over the lunch to which he has kindly invited me.
I am less hopeful about the ACLU`s Ira Glasser. in the second part of the Firing Line debate, he so far forgot himself as to accuse me of “lying” and bet me a year of his salary ($127,950 according to the 1993 American Institute of Philanthropy yearbook) that I had not discussed in Alien Nation the fragmentary evidence that the proportion of immigrants in state prisons does not repeat their over-representation at the federal level. Of course, I had (p. 184).
Glasser has now conceded this, buried in a long abusive ink- cloud of a private letter to me. Unaccountably, however, he neglected to include his check. As a gentleman, he will no doubt have rectified this oversight by the time this paperback edition is in readers` hands. But you can fax him at the ACLU and ask: (212) 354- 5290.
It a mildly interesting question how Glasser could be such a fool as to get himself in this mess. My theory is that it is partly be cause of the pervasive influence of lawyers on American public de bate. Trial lawyers have a reductionist and pragmatic view of arguments. Their object is to convince the jury, not arrive at the truth. Glasser automatically assumed I would suppress apparently unfavorable evidence because, well, he would in my place.
But I wouldn`t. No. dammit. I wouldn`t. Twenty-five years ago, when I had been in the U.S. only months, this passage jumped out of a book I was illicitly reading at the back of a finance class at Stanford`s business school:
I realize about myself that I am, for all my passions, implacably, I think almost unfailingly fair: objective, just. This not vanity, it is rigorous introspection…
The book: Cruising Speed (1970). The author: William F. Buckley Jr.
Perhaps it`s a conservative thing. The Glassers of the world wouldn`t understand.
Or (what I really think) perhaps it has something to do with the great civilization of the West. In which case it may be—not will be, may be—threatened by immigrants from a different cultural tradition.
Virtue is more than its own reward, however. In spite of the ferocious assault on Alien Nation, only one minor nontypographical mistake was discovered. Raul Lowery Contreras, a radio host and professional ethnic in San Diego, complained in a letter to the New York Times that my sources had been wrong to suppose he was part-Anglo: he merely had an “Irish step-father.” (p. 274). Naturally he did not mention that he had read this in the free, inscribed book he had bummed off me when we ran into each other in KOGO`s studios, where I had just appeared on Peter Weissbach`s show.
And, of course, the change does not affect my fundamental point: assimilating visible minorities is more difficult, even given apparent social integration, than optimists assume.
“A highly cogent presentation of what is going to be the benchmark case against immigration,” wrote Richard Bernstein in the New York Times. “Those who think the system needs no fixing cannot responsibly hold to that position any longer unless they take Mr. Brimelow`s urgent appeal into account.”
“Don be misled by the verbal pyrotechnics. . . no reformer can avoid grappling with the formidable work of Peter Brimelow,” wrote David Frum, author of Dead Right and now a Contributing Editor with the Weekly Standard (hope this doesn`t get him fired!) in his syndicated column in Canada.
I agree, as a matter of fact. John Dizard, in a front page story in the New York Observer reporting a civil war among conservatives provoked by my book, quoted me as saying (“ominously”) that “my opponents are hopelessly overextended intellectually and empirically, and are facing annihilation up and down the line.” Nine months later, having been confronted with no new contrary argument or fact, I still think that.
And so, I suspect, do they. Unlike Charles Murray when he came to review the reviews of The Bell Curve, I have essentially no intricate technical counter-arguments to refute, because no one pro vided any. My critics tended to behave like Macaulay`s description of Southey in debate: either they simply reasserted their opinion, often using points that I had just painstakingly refuted in Alien Nation, a technique I found bewildering; or they resorted to abuse. Or, quite often, both.
(As Alien Nation was going to press in 1994, the Urban Institute`s Michael Fix and Jeffrey Passel published Immigration and Immigrants: Setting the Record Straight, which claimed that there was significantly less deterioration in immigrant skill levels and welfare dependency than shown in George Borjas` research. it materialized—distressing to me, since Alien Nation takes other Urban Institute work at face value—that Fix and Passel had abolished the immigration problem by the ruthless expedient of abolishing problem immigrants. For example, all Mexicans had been excluded from the education calculations on the grounds that many are illegal. But Mexico is also the largest source of legal immigrants. So excluding Mexicans gives a falsely positive picture of the legal flow. This statistical equivalent of anecdotal evidence, scrabbling through the immigrant population to find some subgroup that out performs the native-born—left-handed blue-eyed women`!—has become a common immigrant enthusiast nick. However, although hyped by the usual guilty, and occasionally brandished feebly by my regular professional immigration enthusiast debating partners, the Urban Institute`s numbers played surprisingly little role in print reviews. Critics just tended economically to sweep aside my— George Borjas`—work without offering any explanation at all: “rehashing tendentious research on immigrant welfare dependency”—Tom Morganthau, Newsweek)
“What we need is a real debate about immigration,” wrote Thomas Sowell, who, while interested but not uncritical in two syndicated columns, was visibly twitching at the unmistakable political correctness of my immigration enthusiast opponents: “Peter Brimelow`s Alien Nation makes him top choice for the contrary position.”
But any debate about immigration is exactly what much of the opposition absolutely does not want to see. As Milton Friedman once remarked to me, many individuals in American intellectual life are not truly intellectuals but frustrated activists. And the activist`s characteristic concern with tactics rather than truth became pain fully apparent as the controversy about Alien Nation got rolling.
A classic example: Ben Wattenberg. When I arrived at Diane Rehm`s celebrated WAMU talk show in Washington at the beginning of my book tour, I found Wattenberg was to appear with me. We had a perfectly affable disputation, not surprisingly since (we agreed) we had substantial policy proposals in common—such as the utility of an English-language preference, which would have a dramatic impact, particularly on the Hispanic influx. Wattenberg undertook to send me his forthcoming book for a possible Forbes article.
A month later, with Alien Nation getting famous and legislation reducing immigration being introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith and Senator Alan Simpson, Wattenberg was transformed. He bristled with determination to anathematize me for mentioning the fact that government immigration policy is shifting the U.S. racial balance. He was comically baffled because (at a Congressional briefing with him sponsored by Jane DeLung`s Population Resource Center) I instead talked about how immigration policy is also in effect second-guessing the American people`s implicit decision, evidenced by their generally smaller families, about the ideal U.S. population size overall
Even more comic was Wattenberg`s behavior when we taped his PBS TV show Think Tank. (Me versus two critics and Wattenberg as a self-declared `immoderator.” Balance!) He made the very common error of claiming that Alien Nation advocates a shift to white immigration, instead the “time-out` from all immigration I actually recommend on p. 262. I challenged him. Confidently, he started to read something from his lectern. It began “Brimelow says. . .”
“That`s a review!” I interjected. It was a knockdown blow. So much so that before the show appeared, Wattenberg (or his handlers) took the unusual but masterful step of going into the tape and editing out the exchange.
You said it, Ben.
A more important, and sadder, example of an immigration enthusiast attempting to suppress debate: Robert L. Bartley, Editor of the Wall Street Journal Bob and I crawled out of the same conservative! libertarian hole. I had known him and written for his editorial page since the l970s. But he still published the nastiest, and most incompetent, review to appear in any major paper, charmingly heading it “Natterings of a Neo-Nativist.“
This resounding F-minus performance by Tufts historian Reed Ueda not only ignored the role of the 1965 Act but every other major argument in Alien Nation—including, amazing for a business paper, my demonstration that immigration is not an economic necessity—in its eagerness to accuse me of resembling ” late-19th-century forecasts of Anglo-Saxon “race suicide”; i.e. (for most American intellectuals) of proto-Nazism.
(Evading Alien Nation thesis about the workings of the 1965 Immigration Act is unusually important for libertarian imigration enthusiasts—for example, it was also repressed by Alan Bock in the Orange County Register, Stephan Chapman in the Chicago Tribune and, needless to say, by John J. Miller in Reason magazine Otherwise they would be forced to admit that this specific immigrant inflow is the result, not of a free market, but—aargh!—government intervention. Essentially, they are in the same position as the boosters of dams and supersonic airliners who conned an earlier generation of libertarians into thinking that these projects were the product of market processes rather than federal subsidies and log- rolling. But at least the dam-boosters were after a dishonest buck. What is the libertarian immigration enthusiasts` agenda?)
Random House was eager that I support Alien Nation with op-ed articles in major newspapers. And in the end, I appeared in the Washington Post Los Angeles Times. USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Houston Chronicle and related syndicates across the country. Even the New York Times twice commissioned articles, but then reneged. However, it was very fair in other ways. And I can see that running an article by me would have caused the much- loved A. M. Rosenthal to burst a blood vessel. He attacked me twice in his columns, childishly trying to avoid mentioning in by name, finally concluding (June 20):
Just a few words, no more needed, about that British-born immigrant—Peter Brimelow is his name, I remember now. His book is much too farbissen, my mother`s Yiddish word for embittered, to be of value.. . . That British immigrant really must go home. Mercy extends just so far.
Well, if Rosenthal doesn`t like being told what to do by immigrants, he had better support restriction very soon. My mother`s word for all this: daft.
Finally, on Nov. 27. I was the only non-immigration enthusiast (if you don`t count Barbara Jordan) in an editorial page symposium of ten 200-word mini-articles timed to demoralize immigration reformers in Washington. The intellectual level of the enthusiasts was raised by the presence of Dr—in psychology—Ruth Westheimer, the sexologist .She advanced the novel arguments that immigration had saved her from the Holocaust and solved her servant problem.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, however, was a blank wall of unreturned phone calls. Unreturned phone calls are a pet hatred of mine, so when speaking to audiences on the road I began to amuse myself, for this and other reasons, by describing the conservative civil war: “Even the Editor of the Wall Street Journal has stopped talking to me. At least, I think he has. It`s hard to tell with Bob Bartley!” (An in-joke. Bob is a notoriously taciturn Mid-Westerner.)
Eventually, I must have said this on Brian Lamb`s extraordinarily influential C-SPAN show Booknotes. Bob was inspired to return a call. We talked, and he promised to check upon when he had last allowed an article dissenting from the immigration enthusiast party tine. After some weeks, I faxed him pointing out it had been two years.! added “LOOK ON BRIGHT SIDE—LAST DISSENTER (poor Dan James, author of Illegal Immigration) DIED.”
Of course, I heard nothing further. Bob`s sense of humor is somewhere in the same latitude as his loquacity.
But during our conversation, he did say something profoundly significant. Defending his inflexible private opinion that nothing can ever be done about illegal immigration, he remarked: “The destiny of Europe has already been decided in North Africa [ of the population explosion there).”
“That`s a poor look-out for the nation-state,” I said, surprised.
I was thunderstruck. I knew the devoted fans of the Wall Street Journal editorial, overwhelmingly conservative patriots, had no inkling of this. It would make a great Wall Street Journal front page story:
WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITOR REVEALED AS SECRET ONE-WORLDER—CONSTERNATION AMONG FAITHFUL—IS POPE CATHOLIC?
Through much of this most crucial American debate, Wall Street Journal readers have been able to follow the critics` arguments only by deducing them from between the lines of continuous denunciations, rather like Pravda readers under Stalin. Curiously, Bob Bartley presided over a similar shut-out in the early l980s, when I used to beg him to editorialize against affirmative action, then rapidly metastasizing. Finally, he said: “I`ll write about affirmative action when you get me a black writer.”
Later, he did find black writers—one of them, Joe Perkins now with the San Diego Union-Tribune, bravely broke with immigration enthusiast orthodoxy to defend Alien Nation in his column. But by then of course it was too late. Quotas were entrenched.
Fortunately, Bob does not strike me as being as sensitive as the shepherd hero of Thomas Hardy`s Far From the Madding Crowd; “It had always been a shadow in his life that his flock ended as mutton—that a day came and found every shepherd an arrant traitor to his defenseless sheep.” The fact remains, however, that arguably the most brilliant career in American journalism has failed its supreme test.
Other Highlights from the reviews:
- Harvard University`s Stephan Thernstrom in the Washington Post: Has recent immigration to the U.S. really been huge? Not really . . . in proportion to total population, the more relevant comparison, it continues to be fairly low by historic standards . . .”
I devoted all of chapter 2 to crushing this vulgar error, basically by demonstrating that immigration is now high relative to population growth But it still cropped in many reviews—another automatic “F.” When I politely pointed out Thernstrom`s mistake in a letter to the Washington Post, he replied huffily, extemporizing that when population growth is static, even one immigrant would be 100% of population growth. True, and so would 100 million immigrants—which is why I invented the Wedge Chart on page 47, showing the actual situation (50% higher population by 2050). My theory: reviewers notoriously don`t read books. But did Thernstrom even look at the pictures?
- Nicholas Lemann in the New York Times Book Review:
“Judging from a couple of asides, Mr. Brimelow doesn`t consider Jews to meet his definition of`white` either; for example, he refers to the Clinton Administration as `a black-Hispanic-Jewish-minority white (Southerners used to call them “scalawags”) coalition.` Else where he points out that Jews played a major role in the passage of the hated 1965 immigration law,
Of course, I also point out that Jews are prominent in the current reform movement too, but Lemann didn`t mention that. After some puzzling, I have decided that his first sentence means I should have said “minority non-Jewish white.” Bunk. Technically, I should have said “non-Hispanic white” too, because some Hispanics are white. But I do not throughout Alien Nation in the interests of minimal readability.
Strangely, Lemann`s review was not particularly hostile, al though of course passing over my chapters on economics in favor of race (like virtually everyone else—this part of the immigration debate has not even begun.) My theory: when Lemann referred to Alien Nation`s “amazing absence of euphemism and disingenuousness,” he meant just that: he was literally amazed. Wandering around in his state of amazement. he idly insinuated anti-semitism in much the same spirit as a mechanical ignoramus in an automobile salesroom kicking a new car`s tire.
- Jacob Weisberg in New York magazine: “Brimelow re sorts to statistical abuses that would make a high-school debate blush. His first distortion is a chart that shows immigration in absolute numbers. By including those who applied for legal status under the temporary amnesty of a few years ago, he succeeds in producing a recent `spike.`”
In fact, of course, the IRCA amnesties are included in the INS official figures. (Chart I, p. 30-31). And I discuss this problem and correct for them (Chart 2, p. 32) Even if Weisberg had not turned the page, he was present at my address to the Manhattan Institute when I pointed this out. To its discredit, New York refused to publish a correction letter from my researcher Joseph E. Fallon.
Interestingly, Weisberg was involved in a similar incident involving The Bell Curve. He wrote that at a conference sponsored by AEI the book`s linking of intelligence and race was only raised (by him, although he didn`t say so) when Glenn Loury, who is black, left the room. In fact, Juan Williams, who is also black, was present throughout.
My theory: Weisberg is a type, common in New York, whose verbal slickness exceeds his intellectual powers. Faced with an argument that disturbs him emotionally, he compulsively lies about it, like a lunatic exposing himself to a nubile woman.
- Michael Lind in the New Yorker “uses the rhetoric of an after-dinner speaker at a Klavern banquet.” etc. well, the meteoric Lind is a special case. Once a hanger-on of the conservative movement and National Review, he seems to have made the entirely rational decision that there`s more money on the left. (My wife keeps telling me the same thing.) You can more or less date this process: less than two years earlier, Lind had written in the New Republic (August 23, 1993) that my original National Review cover story, which constitutes about a quarter of Alien Nation, was “an eloquent restatement . . of traditional American conservative arguments.” I even received an effusive four-page, single-spaced private letter from him on the subject.
Alien Notion posed a peculiarly acute problem for Lind. His own soon-to-be-published book, The Next American Nation, actually called for immigration restriction just like Alien Nation, although in a way that tried to appeal to political liberals. Much of the debunking of immigration enthusiast myths was eerily similar, including for example a passage on Tom Paine that was almost identical (see page 17). Lind had adopted many arguments first developed in National Review such as the economic impact on blue-collar workers. (He had even acknowledged this in a letter to National Review, published March 7, 1994.) He could purge National Review from his footnotes, and he did. But he could not afford to have his new friends making close comparisons with Alien Nation. So he tried to drive it out of public debate in the usual way.
It won`t last, of course. Although there are good traditional liberal reasons to oppose immigration, modem liberalism is differently motivated. And sooner or later, another even younger and equally vicious Lind is going to come along and make his reputation with an article on “Michael Lind`s Tainted Sources”—the title of a notorious attack on The Bell Curve. Additionally, Lind himself is too restless and quarrelsome. My theory: this strange, driven figure will next become a Mormon. No doubt of a heretical kind.
John J. Miller in Reason. “Follow that reasoning? It goes something like this: Colin Ferguson is an immigrant. Colin Ferguson is bad. Therefore, all immigrants are bad.”
A number of reviewers (Christopher Hitchens, Los Angeles Times: Christopher Farrell, Business Week) were uncomfortable about my mention of Colin Ferguson. the Jamaican immigrant and Long Island Rail Road mass-murderer, and “immigration dimension” of some current problems. But the most extreme treatment, typically, was by Washington policy wonk John!. Miller.
Completely missing from these discussions was the context (page 6-7). 1 had noted that prevailing taboos make it virtually impossible to report anything bad about immigrants, resulting in a “one-way immigration debate.” I then deliberately gave the Ferguson case as an example of news that could have been treated as an immigration story, but that in fact became a more palatable gun control story because of the taboo. I am promptly denounced taboo. This is exactly like an AIDS researcher contracting the virus.
(Alien Nation was attacked—for example, George Ramos, Los Angeles Times—for not containing enough touchy-feely interviews with immigrants. Partly this is because my view of what constitutes evidence is a financial journalist`s: numbers, concepts, analysis. But my Ferguson experience makes another problem clear: stories about immigrant criminals, welfare cases and disease carriers would simply not be tolerated by today`s book reviewers, regardless of the truth.)
My theory: never underestimate the intense emotion with which people read books. You cannot rely on phrases, let alone paragraphs, being read in context. I don`t believe that this applies to Miller, though. Careful study has led me to view him as the most unscrupulous of contemporary immigration enthusiasts.
So, having given the immigration enthusiasts a good pound with the thick end of the wedge, what do I see when I stand back?
“It seems clear that the Wall Street Journal is losing, if it has not already lost, this debate. . .” wrote Fr. Richard John Neuhaus who regards himself as pro-immigration, in First Things magazine. “Brimelow`s raising of the race question. however. . may also be the reason why, if Brimelow`s argument wins in the political arena (which seems more than possible), few people will give him and his book much credit in helping transform U.S. immigration policy.”
Could be. Who knows? This is the equivalent of having a heart attack alter putting your three-year-old to bed.
But there`s also the blissful quiet. The professional immigration restrict were quick to spot it. Contrary to allegations, they have usually in the past confined themselves to environmental and economic arguments. But writing in the Spring 1995 issue of The Social Contract, the restrictionist movement`s house magazine. FAIR`s Ira Mehlman, offered this penetrating insight under the evocative heading: “Brimelow Drops The Big One.`
B Brimelow actually makes a very broad case against current immigration policies, but not surprisingly, almost everybody has focused on those chapters that deal with race, ethnicity and culture. . . . By bringing up subjects that had heretofore been considered taboo, Brimelow has scared a lot of people who have been observing the debate from the sidelines into conceding that our current immigration policies don`t make economic sense.
[There is a] sudden willingness of many in the media (who are a good barometer of the intellectual elite) to choose a side on the question of whether immigration is beneficial or harmful to the economy.
In effect, I had won the economic debate by raising the question of racial balance and culture. The pattern that Mehlman spotted was so immensely powerful as to become funny. Again and again, reviews denounced me and Alien Nation, and then go on to say in effect that “of course” there are things wrong with immigration. . .just not the things, or all the things, I had in mind. Examples:
Michael Lind, New Yorker; Christopher Farrell, Business Week; Tom Morganthau, Newsweek; Jeff Turrentine, Dallas Morning News: Margo Harakas, St. Petersburg Times; Jacob Weisberg, New York magazine…
“Glad to hear it, Mr. Weisberg,” wrote Richard Brookhiser sarcastically in the New York Observer. “where can we find those earlier analyses of illegal immigration, and of the flaws of the 1965 Immigration Act? The ones you wrote pre-Brimelow?”
There`s no guarantee that this will have a permanent effect, of course. Bad faith, intellectual laziness and unacknowledged agendas are characteristic of immigration enthusiasts. But Ira Mehlman argued that the change was irreversible:
The only question is in what context [reforms] take place. They can occur because the intellectual elite are finally persuaded that the cur rent policies do not make economic or environmental sense, or be cause the general public rises up in revolt over policies that perceive are irreparably altering the racial, ethnic and cultural balance of their country.
The choice should be rather easy.
In Fort Lauderdale, I went into WFTL-AM`s studio to appear on Al Rantel`s wild and woolly talk show. Rantel`s sometime sidekick Rick Seiderman turned out to be particularly eager to challenge any idea of criticizing immigration.
“Look at you,” he said at one point across the microphone. “You look like Adolf Hitler`s wet dream.”
I believe that people like Seiderman actually have no idea what effect this sort of attack, so casually and constantly made, has upon those who have to endure it. It lights a small point of incandescent rage deep inside you, like the steadily encircling campfires of a besieging army at night.
Of course, you are not allowed to respond in anger. So I just said mildly: “My father spent six and a half years fighting Hitler.” (World War II began for Britain in 1939.)
“Did he win?” demanded Seiderman, aggressively unimpressed. It was one of those moments in debate when a reply comes unbidden, both for my poor father, dead five years, and indeed for my mortally wounded land of origin.
“No,” I said with a sudden bitterness. “He lost.”
Seiderman pulled a face and moved on.
But of course we have all lost to Adolf Hitler, native-born and immigrant, white and non-white alike because the resulting emotional spasm of a policy is inflicting upon America damage that will still be felt in a hundred years. If indeed it does not prove terminal.
Some time before Alien Nation was published, a famous sociologist was talking to a private dinner group in New York about a controversial question of the day. He gave his position but added that he would not lake it in public—“there`s a limit to what you can say in a multiracial society.”
I refuse to accept this. But judging by the reception of Alien Nation, it is far from clear that he is wrong. In which case, the question must be asked: can such a society can be truly free?